I am great at eating and average at the rest

This weekend was apparently the first Advent. The first day of Advent? Adventing? I am not sure, but something related to that most beloved holiday of Christmas was already happening.

And apparently the activity to celebrate it properly, was baking. Cookies specifically. Now I normally do not really bake. There is 1 cheesecake recipe that is quick, convenient and easy to make. I will occasionally help out others, but I do not voluntarily bake.

I do not know exactly what about baking does not interest me a lot. I think it is the fact that you are not making a whole meal. Baking can take just as long as cooking, but then you have a cake. A whole cake. Which you then probably need to share. Sure, sharing is caring but at the same time, why? I can also just make food for myself. Let alone the fact that I feel it is even sadder if you spent hours working on baking something and it turns out average. Or worse, bad.

Also, thinking about baking I feel that there is in a certain sense less baking in the traditional Chinese kitchen. There are lots of sweets like mochi, buns, cookies, but I would not make them myself. I would buy them, a lot of people would. Because many homes did not have an oven, and also some of these sweets are very intricate and complicated. I would rather spend time queuing for that than making it myself and having sub-par taste.

But of course, my grumpiness can be mitigated with good company and easy tasks. Shaping the cookies and eating the raw dough bring me joy. I am not immune to the excitement that you can get by intently looking at the oven window, although currently my oven is placed so high I barely see anything that is in there, nor to the thrill of tasting a cookie. And not that much can go wrong in the end. So I will not bke voluntarily, but I will definitely help voluntarily.

Chronicling my Saint Nicholas experience because I can pt. 2

How to replace one kind of fun with a different one, but then it keeps on changing.

Young adulthood Saint Nicholas – Now you need to actually put in some effort yourself

The good:

Finally you take the reins. Saint Nicholas is something you not only celebrate with family anymore but your friends get involved. You get double the fun and may actually start to recreate some of the excitement. Of course part of the fun is getting some weird gifts that you do not need. All those times your family did not give you all those useless things, your friends are sure to help you with that. And so long as you do not every year get the excuse “I really had no time to make something better” accompanied by a raffle box, there should definitely be some memorable unpacking moments that will be commented upon for years after.

The bad:

Transitioning into adulthood is just hard, period. There is so much disappointment hiding behind each corner and the same counts for celebrating anything with friends. If you do not have too many people complaining about their inability to write poems, then you may be limited by your own crafting skills. If it is not your own crafting skills, there are bound to be some others who just do not prioritize this highlight of the year. And finally, life tends to get in the way of these celebrations and you may need to start planning 3 months on forehand, only to have to then cancel it a week on forehand because nobody has the time or energy for it.

Saint Nicholas abroad – A lesson in Dutch culture

The good:

This is the moment for Dutch culture to shine! Forget about the fact that we do not really have any food culture or a national dance. You finally get to tell about this very peculiar and special Dutch tradition. It is all good fun and you get to show others something completely new. Experiencing familiar things in a completely new situation will most definitely also get you to appreciate everything again. Yes it was loads of fun as a kid and no it is completely different from Santa Claus. The commercialization and merchandise of Saint Nicholas will seem far more benign in your head, especially because Christmas is just decorations in many non-Western countries.

You can have fun finding out if you can make some of the snacks yourself, or where to buy them, or strategically ask someone early enough but not too early to bring or send them. You will appreciate even the most basic of snacks, and may point at every chimney to remind everyone that they missed out on something great. Those poor kids.

The bad:

Foreigners will interpret everything differently. It is the moment that you will take off the rose-tinted glasses and suddenly be presented with knowledge about certain aspects you were ignorant about as a kid. You suddenly realize things are not as natural as they seemed to you. How black does one get by coming through the chimney? Why did we once think it was unproblematic to paint our faces that color and put on these wigs? And why is it always white old men bringing around these gifts and showing off their benevolence? Most importantly, the horse would explode if it ate all of the hay and carrots kids put in their boots.

And once the scales fall from your eyes, it is easy to see how much hubris is left now. There is police regularly for a children’s celebration and families can get split over such a logical development. And once you start comparing your own celebrations with those in other countries, they may seem not seem so magical anymore. Why do we not have moon bunnies that make rice cakes? Or have a selfish trickster in the form of a spider?

Thus, there is nothing like a new perspective to make you realize traditions just do not make sense. And that even though they change, it only makes it more difficult to explain to others. But that is part of the process and keeping it alive.

So is real adulthood going to ruin this even more? Probably yes. Maybe not.

Chronicling my Saint Nicholas experience because I can pt. 1

One of the few celebrations that is very special to the Netherlands. It has snacks, songs and of course gifts. But like all things that define your childhood, it changes. In most of my adult life, there has definitely been a place for Saint Nicholas and it still has a reservation. So on this festive day, I wanted to put down some of my thoughts and nostalgia on the whole development. Because that is what your thirties are for.

The Saint Nicholas story in one sentence is: an old white man with a red robe and big book rides on the roofs on horseback with helpers to deliver gifts to all the good kids.

Childhood Saint Nicholas – Like a Christmas movie

The good:

Saint Nicholas felt more exciting than my birthday to be honest. Probably because there is at least 10-14 days of buildup towards it. And that is done by putting your shoe near the chimney, stuffing it with a carrot or hay, singing a song and then receiving a gift. In my never-up-before-9 childhood, this ritual was one of the few things that had me jumping on my parents’ bed.

Another thing I remember fondly is going through huge catalogues and looking at all the toys and stuff I might want. Thinking back that I got excited about furbies and toy dogs, makes me very happy that my parents were smart enough not to give me those things though.

The bad:

I was a firm believer in the existence of this mysterious man, mainly because of his horse. At the same time, I never liked the guys that dressed up like Saint Nicholas, especially if they did not wore a red robe or were on horseback. My parents also made the smart decision to skip the dress up part, so I did not suddenly recognize my dad’s or neighbor’s slippers.

There were always Saint Nicholas welcome parades and an actual news channel that starts about 3 weeks before the celebrations. I had zero interest in any of this, even though I accepted the tv Saint Nicholas as the REAL one. I always found it difficult to immerse myself in programs where real people played an, in my eyes then, fantastical role.

And although there are many good snacks for Saint Nicholas, I remember always getting the most basic ones at school. You had these disgustingly sweet chocolate mice and frogs, which apparently have always been factory produced. Then there were the peppernuts, which you can now get in at least 20 flavors, but was not as versatile then. Let me just say it, the basic ones are not all that good. Lastly, it was the so-called taaitaai which is actually tough twice in Dutch and describes the snack perfectly. It is tough, not all that sweet and tastes like something very calvinist, very simple and devoid of enjoyment.

Tween Saint Nicholas – A lesson in growing up

The good:

Many people have a certain moment of epiphany when they realized Saint Nicholas was not real. Some may even feel betrayed by parents and family to have been told this lie for years. That was not the case for me. I cannot really remember when I knew Saint Nicholas did not exist, but I do remember everyone else getting very persistent on this, especially from 10 onwards. Those who were believers got ridiculed for getting pulled the wool over their eyes, and not believing was something the cool kids did. And I did not understand this mentality. At all. So what I remember very clearly, is talking with my mom about this and telling her I just liked the idea. Why was the whole focus on immediately throwing out the whole idea and tradition? Just because it is not true, does not mean you cannot enjoy something right? She agreed and told me we could decide in our own family that Saint Nicholas exists and we ‘believe’ in him. And a few years later, in 2007 All is Love came out which voiced this exact idea in its intro. I never felt so validated.

You can finally buy all of the good snacks, or let your parents buy them.

The bad:

Just like with other celebrations that get less special as you age, Saint Nicholas loses a lot of its magic. It is not that it gets a lot less fun, just that it pales in comparison to what you used to feel. Even though you can still do everything, the excitement is gone. It does not come back, and that is something good to start learning early.

So what is Saint Nicholas like as a real adult? As you move abroad? As society changes? More to follow soon!